These days, many older adults are living on limited incomes from sources like Social Security benefits and meager retirement savings. Finding affordable products and services is crucial to making ends meet. Numerous resources exist, but most of them are either difficult to find, confusing to apply for or largely unheard of.
Your local Area Agency on Aging (the names of these offices may differ) is the best place to begin when looking for assistance. Local charities and larger nonprofit organizations, such as Lions Clubs and Meals on Wheels America, can also be great sources of help.
In my opinion, the most valuable items for seniors—things like free hearing aids and free dentures—are the most difficult to come by. Drawing from my experiences as a caregiver for my mom, I have compiled a list of useful and affordable products and services and a roadmap for finding them.
Senior Assistance Programs and Resources
Benefits CounselingHow many times have you, either as a senior or as a family caregiver, wrestled with trying to figure out what type of help was available to you? Free benefits counseling is available through your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) that can point you in the right direction. AAA counselors can provide answers regarding health insurance coverage, food stamps, income assistance and other free government benefits for seniors.
Don’t feel like visiting your AAA in person? Try a virtual form of benefits counseling on BenefitsCheckUp.org. Seniors can use this website provided by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) to search for specific resources or discover new local, state and federal benefit programs that can help save money. If necessary, AAAs can assist with applying for benefits as well.
Adult Day CareAdult day care centers may be run by government entities, senior living facilities, local charities or even religious groups. The purpose of these centers is to provide older adults with a safe place to socialize, engage in activities and eat a hot meal in a supervised setting. Adult day care is ideal for seniors who cannot remain alone but do not need the level of care that a nursing home provides. This is an extremely useful source of respite for working caregivers and those looking to build regular breaks into their routines.
Your AAA should be able to direct you to local providers, or you can conduct a quick search in AgingCare’s Adult Day Care Directory for a center in your area.
When it comes to paying for adult day services, most facilities charge nominal fees merely to cover their operating costs. Many use a sliding scale fee structure that is based on a senior’s income and ability to pay.
Eligibility requirements are different for each facility. For example, some centers will only accept seniors who are continent because they do not offer supplies or trained staff to change adult briefs. Other facilities may require a certain amount of mobility for those attending (i.e., they are ambulatory). More intensive care and supervision are available at specialized adult day health centers. These facilities have a registered nurse on staff who can help seniors take their medications, monitor their health, and provide certain types of therapy to promote independence and healthy aging.
When initially contacting your AAA or a day center directly, give them as much information up front regarding your ability to pay and the physical condition of the applicant so they can give you accurate enrollment information.
Medicaid-Covered Dental CareDue to complicated billing processes and slow government reimbursement, there aren’t many dentists that accept Medicaid. To find a dentist in your state that accepts Medicaid, contact your state’s department of health or visit the American Dental Association’s Find-A-Dentist website. You can tailor your search using several different parameters, including payment method to locate a dentist that accepts Medicaid patients. Keep in mind that there are a limited number of dental practices that accept Medicaid, so seniors might have to travel to receive these services.
Free DenturesAs incredible as it may seem, it is possible for low-income seniors to receive a free set of dentures. In addition to calling your AAA to see if they can refer you to any resources, try contacting your state dental association and any nearby dental colleges. These organizations will be able to direct you to free or low-cost dental programs.
The Dental Lifeline Network also operates a Donated Dental Services (DDS) program in every state through a comprehensive network of volunteer dentists and dental labs. These DDS programs provide free dental treatment to vulnerable individuals who need dental services like dentures but cannot afford them or qualify for other assistance.
Pharmaceutical Assistance ProgramsState Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs (SPAPs) offer savings on drug costs for certain groups. Residents of certain states and territories may have access to an SPAP that can provide help paying for prescription medications.
Income and residency requirements, coverage details, and copay amounts vary from state to state, so be sure to contact your state’s department of health and/or human services for details.
Prescription Drug DiscountsDespite the advent of Medicare Part D and SPAPs, many seniors still cannot afford their medications. Fortunately, other sources of help are available. Select pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs to seniors, uninsured/underinsured individuals, and people with limited income. You can search a comprehensive list of these programs on the Medicine Assistance Tool website and find instructions for how to apply.
National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP)The NFCSP provides funding to states for the support of informal caregivers. AAAs often administer these programs in conjunction with other community-based organizations and providers. NFCSP services are designed to supplement, not replace, the efforts of family caregivers. They include counseling, training, support groups and respite care.
Discounted Phone or Internet ServicesLifeLine is a federal government program for qualifying low-income consumers that provides either discounted phone (landline or wireless cell phone) or internet services. To qualify, a consumer must have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or currently participate in some form of government assistance, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Visit LifelineSupport.org to see if you qualify and to find participating telecommunication companies in your state. Phone and internet providers, such as Comcast and Cox, may offer their own affordable service programs as well.
Additionally, Congress created the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to temporarily lower the cost of high-speed internet for eligible households during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible low-income consumers can receive up to a $50 discount per month on their internet services. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the program will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.
Retail Store DiscountsRetail stores commonly offer senior discounts or days when older adults are eligible for discounted shopping. The age at which a person qualifies for discounts varies by store, so some family caregivers may even be eligible. Visit this guide to explore stores that offer discounts: Retail Store Discounts. If one of your regular stores is not on this list, don’t hesitate to ask your cashier or store manager about extra discounts.
Free Phone for Hearing Impaired IndividualsCaptionCall is a service funded by the FCC that provides free captioned telephones and captioning services to those with hearing loss. To be eligible, a senior must certify that they have hearing loss and require the use of a captioned telephone. CaptionCall also offers a free mobile application through the Apple App Store and Google Play that allows users to receive captioned phone calls on Apple iOS and Android devices.
Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)This program used to be called “food stamps” and provides monetary assistance to low-income families so they can afford nutritious food. Apply through your AAA or local SNAP office. Each state has slightly different eligibility requirements based upon income, household size and countable resources. I have found that most states offer a website where you can learn more about the program and apply online. Visit the USDA SNAP website for a list of nationwide office locations and states that offer online applications.
Other Free Food ServicesIn addition to programs such as SNAP, local charities and governments offer programs that provide seniors with a nutritious meal (typically lunch) and the opportunity to socialize. Transportation may be provided as well. Check with your local AAA to see what programs are available in your area. Local food banks are another source of assistance for low-income seniors. Locate soup kitchens, food pantries and other resources at FeedingAmerica.org.
Free Hearing AidsA new hearing aid can cost thousands of dollars, so it’s no wonder that seniors are hard pressed to pay for these devices. Fortunately, I have found that there are a few ways to obtain free and discounted hearing aids. Some programs offer new devices and others provide refurbished hearing aids.
First, contact your local Lions Club about their Affordable Hearing Aid Project (AHAP). Most chapters either operate or know of a hearing aid bank that can match needy seniors with recycled hearing aids. Another approach is to seek out clinical trials of new hearing aids. Contact manufacturers to see if you can volunteer for a trial. When the trial is over, you typically get to keep the product. You will have to meet medical qualifications for the trial, and you may have to contact several manufacturers until you find one that works for you. Sometimes there are waiting lists for trials, but this can be a great way for seniors to receive free hearing equipment.
Free Legal HelpMany seniors and their caregivers need legal guidance. Whether you need assistance with small estate planning issues, power of attorney documents, drafting letters to creditors, or help with Medicaid applications, free and discounted legal help is available.
Check with your AAA, local law schools, and state and local bar associations to see if they directly offer reduced fees or pro bono services or know of other programs, firms, and attorneys who do. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also provides some legal help for veterans, and the Legal Services Corporation specifically assists low-income individuals with legal matters.
Medical Alert SystemsMedical alert devices can be invaluable to seniors who wish to maintain their independence and caregivers who need some added peace of mind. A person only needs to push a button on their device to summon help in the event of an emergency, such as a heart attack or a fall. The devices come in wearable wristband and pendant forms, or as base stations that can be placed strategically throughout the home for easy access.
There are several different systems to choose from, but their differing features, costs and contract terms can make it hard to compare them. To minimize costs and maximize benefits, look for a system that only involves a monthly fee (about $35 on average), does not charge a device fee, and features an in-house response service rather than an outsourced one.
This last point is particularly important. When your loved one hits that button, you want a response from a trained, competent professional who can calmly contact emergency services and stay on the line until help arrives. AARP members, veterans, and seniors with certain insurance carriers may be able to enjoy discounts on medical alert systems from certain providers.
Discounted Mobility AidsA walker will typically cost at least $40, and rollators are even more expensive. That can be a lot of money for a senior. If you are looking for a discounted or free mobility aid, try thrift stores and local non-profit organizations. Hospitals and nursing homes may also periodically dispose of reliable, used equipment at a lower price point.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)Individuals with low income can apply for assistance to efficiently heat and cool their homes. Help is provided either in the form of weather upgrades to a residence or as direct cash assistance for energy costs based on one’s income level. Weather upgrades make homes more energy efficient and are provided through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). WAP can help families install insulation, repair or replace HVAC systems, and seal doors and windows. One little-known fact about LIHEAP is that it is available to both homeowners and renters, making it more widely accessible for low-income seniors.
Long-Term Care Ombudsman ServicesEach state has an ombudsman program the purpose of which is to “address complaints and advocate for improvements in the long-term care system.” Ombudsmen are similar to union representatives. They are trained to investigate complaints and ensure that residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and board and care homes are being treated fairly.
If you feel a senior living resident is being neglected, exploited or abused in a long-term care facility, getting the ombudsman’s contact information is easy. It should be prominently displayed in all nursing home lobbies. You can also find this information on the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care website.
Residential Repair ServicesNeed some minor work done around the house, but can’t afford the labor? Many AAAs run a residential repair service that offers minor upgrades and adaptations to homes or rentals to make them safer and more conducive to aging in place. You may have to pay for supplies, but the labor is typically provided for free by volunteers.
Wandering Support ProgramsDementia caregivers are often concerned about their loved ones wandering. Getting lost on foot is worrisome enough, but if a senior is driving with dementia, the consequences can be very serious. There are many ways to combat this. One way is through a Silver Alert program, which is a public notification system that broadcasts information about missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental disabilities to expedite their location and return. These programs vary by state. Some require preemptive registration of vulnerable seniors, while others simply require a person to contact their local law enforcement agency in the event a cognitively impaired driver goes missing.
Another wandering program is Project Lifesaver. This nationwide program requires advance registration and is offered by many public safety agencies, such as police departments, fire departments and search and rescue organizations. These agencies provide a small transmitter for wanderers to wear. The watch-like device transmits a unique signal that can assist trained law enforcement officials and emergency responders in locating a missing person. Costs vary for enrollment in this program, so locate a participating agency in your area and contact them for additional details.
Online Caregiver Support GroupOne of the most valuable resources available to caregivers is the expertise, advice and understanding of other caregivers. AgingCare offers a free peer-to-peer caregiver support group. The Caregiver Forum is an online message board where caregivers can ask questions, get advice and find support from others who understand what you are going through. It’s free, anonymous, and comes with the benefit of being available whenever and wherever you are.
I have used many of these services to assist me in my role as a caregiver and hope that you and your loved ones find these resources helpful as well.